Japanese Umbrella Culture

What is the deal with umbrellas here in Japan? When I lived in America, I don’t really remember using one all that often. Not having one back home could have been because I was so car-reliant. I had to drive everyday to get from point A to point B because the public transportation, MARTA (Metro Atlanta Rail and Transit Authority), in my town has a more limitations than it should. Because I was always driving, it meant always having to find a parking deck or parking garage. In the U.S., parking is about as ubiquitous as it gets. Unless it’s just a super busy day, or if you’re in a traffic-congested, downtown city block during a special event, you should be able to find a parking space that’s pretty close to the entrance of the store/destination that you’re going to.

What does parking have to do with not using umbrellas? Quite a bit I would think. Being in a car means not getting wet, unless you got the lemon from hell. Even in heavy rains, parking lots are pretty close to entryways. The resulting short sprint from the car to a store entrance, and vice versa, during a thunderstorm never really justified dishing out money for an umbrella for me. I was probably just going to forget it somewhere anyway. Now If I were wearing a suit, or if it was a special occasion, that’s different. I would use an umbrella in those cases. In general, though, I was cool not having one.

Umbrellas in Japan

Japan is extremely different from America when it comes to umbrellas. It seems like everybody, their mother, and their grandmother has an umbrella. On a rainy day, you will see tons of them. You see men and women riding bikes riding in what I like call the “rain joust” position*, that I have found so ineffective (find out why in the Typhoon Post). At nearly every business establishment or public building that I have been to during a storm, there is an umbrella rack of some kind, that’s loaded with umbrellas. Some of these racks are simple, while others are pretty hard core. For example at the Joyful Gym, there are there two large umbrella racks. One rack is just a standard rack with numerous holes for people to put their umbrellas in. The other rack is one with individual locking mechanisms. There is actually a small combination dial at each hole that’s used to lock your umbrella while you go and workout. I’ve never even tried using the latter rack because it just seems like a bit much.
The “rain joust” position is my name for the way people ride their bikes with one hand, while simultaneously holding their umbrella in the other at like a 35-45 degree angle. I don’t recommend trying this with an opaque/ umbrella…because you can’t see what’s in front of you!

When it rains, you’ll also find that many grocery stores put out small bag dispensers. These long, thin plastic bags are made solely for the purpose of slipping over your wet umbrella after being outside in the rains. I guess it’s good way to keep the floors a littler drier after a downpour.

The Cheapest Umbrellas Ever?

Japan is also home to some of the cheapest umbrellas I’ve ever seen. At my local convenience store, the cheapest umbrellas I’ve ever seen cost only 500 yen (U.S. equivalent, that’s about $6.50). So if you happen to get caught in the rain during a storm without your umbrella, it costs little to nothing stop into a Seven Eleven, Family Mart, Lawson, etc., and buy one that will get you through. But please keep in mind that you sometimes get what you pay for. I remember buying one of the umbrellas once and trying to use my hand to wipe off some of the excess water. Wiping once got rid of some of the water. Wiping twice got rid of even more water. On the third wipe (no joke) the entire plastic part of the umbrella (the part that keep you dry) rip away from the wire frame*. I just had to toss that sucker. Ah well…

Stolen Umbrellas?!?

I have heard of the occasional person, usually non-Japanese, just walking up to the umbrella rack while it’s raining, and just taking an umbrella. I don’t think it’s as common for Japanese people to do this unless it’s just an identical umbrella, but I can see how it happens. There are just so many umbrellas in these racks, I would imagine mix-ups happen all the time. To date, I have never taken anybody’s umbrella. I feel like if I take somebody’s umbrella, some strange, Japanese 傘カルマ “Kasa Karma” may come back and get me :O …

Stay dry out there, gang!

Your friendly neighborhood Japan Guy,

Donald Ash

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  • Petaris

    the cheapest umbrellas I’ve ever seen cost only 500 yen (U.S. equivalent, that’s about ).

    That is about $6.50 these days. Back when I first visited Japan I bought some in Matsushima for 300 yen each. At that time the exchange rate was about 117 JPY to 1 USD so maybe about $2.50 each. :)

    • Donald Ash

      Thanks for catching that, Petaris! 117 yen, now that’s REALLY cheap. Does the umbrella disintegrate after one usage? :)

      • Petaris

        Actually there were and still are pretty decent umbrellas but they don’t get much of a work out. LOL :)

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